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By Ramon Ray

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The SBA reports that there are about 26 million small businesses in the U.S. This includes 20 million sole proprietors and 6 million businesses with employees.

Intuit recently conducted a survey that found 72 percent of Americans want to start their own business. In addition, 84 percent believe they would be more passionate about their work if they owned their own business, and 70 percent regularly have thought about resigning from their job.

To encourage more individuals to turn from Dilbert-like, cubicle-decorating employees into business owners, Intuit is launching a new campaign, "Just Start." This campaign will give aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to win a $50,000 grant toward starting their own business.

Submit your entry via video or text, and check out the aspirations and dreams of other contest entrants while you're at the site. While only one person will win the $50,000 grant, it's still important for you to take the first step toward making your dream a reality.

Thousands of businesses are started each year, and while many fail due to lack of funds, few sales, bad original product idea or dozens of other reasons, many succeed. Some small businesses grow into huge companies, such as Michael Dell's multibillion-dollar computer business started out of his college dorm. Others remain small and are the heart and soul of the American economy.

Once your business is running, growing it and keeping it vital is the hard part. Here are some key aspects to keep in mind.

  • Finance: Make sure you're closely managing cash flow--income and expenses. As part of the "Just Start" campaign, Intuit is offering a free copy of Quick Books Simple Start, its accounting software for small businesses. Other accounting products to consider are Microsoft Accounting and Sage's Peachtree.
  • Marketing: If you have a great product, but customers don't know about it, you won't have many sales. Make sure you market your products and services as economically and strategically as you can. Online marketing is a low-cost and effective way to generate sales. Of course, word-of-mouth and other traditional sales methods are critical as well.
  • Employees: As the need to hire employees arises, make sure you do your best to hire the right people for the right task and that you build a culture that encourages employees to grow with your business.
  • Technology: One of the most effective ways to do more with less is not by staying up later and getting up earlier, but by using technology as effectively as you can. If your competition requires three people to complete one sales order, you might be able to use technology to accomplish the task with one person. Technology is only a tool and should always be used as an asset and complementary part of your business operations.

There's a lot more to starting and growing your business, such as the legal aspects and business processes, than anyone can write down in an article. However, being passionate about what you do and learning from the mistakes of others are key.

Make sure you do a lot of reading and develop a close network of business professionals who are further along in their business growth. Reading outside of your expertise will give you insight into various aspects of business growth. Business professionals can give you hands-on guidance and insight into what they've done to make their business a success.

If you've been secretly reading Entrepreneur in your cubicle at work and dreaming of starting your own business, winning $50,000 could be the push you need to go out and do it.

You also might want to consider Visa's Business Breakthrough contest. The winner receives $10,000. To enter, explain why your business needs help in technology, marketing, finance, organization or team building by December 31.

Good luck.

Ramon Ray is Entrepreneur.com's "Tech Basics" columnist and editor of Smallbiztechnology.com. He's the author of Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses and currently serves on the board of directors and the technology committee for the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

Ramon Ray is editor of SmallBizTechnology.com and author of Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses.

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